The trial of a Columbia man accused of killing an infant as a result of a drunk driving crash in 2018 got underway Monday in Charles County Circuit Court.
Michael Maurice Ford, now 50, was 49 on May 7, 2018, when his was one of three vehicles involved in an accident in the area of U.S. 301 and Pierce Road in Waldorf. Ford was allegedly behind the wheel of a Freightliner box truck while intoxicated, the Maryland Independent reported at the time, and was traveling south on U.S. 301 that day shortly before 4 p.m.
The preliminary investigation conducted at the time determined that a white Nissan truck was stopped for the red traffic signal on southbound U.S. 301 in the third lane at Pierce Road. A blue Jeep Wrangler was traveling behind the Nissan slowing to come to a stop. A yellow Freightliner box truck was also traveling southbound behind the Jeep. Witnesses said that the Freightliner truck struck the rear of the Jeep, forcing it into the side of the Nissan. The Freightliner then collided into the rear of the Nissan truck.
The adult driver and passenger of the Jeep were treated at the scene for minor injuries. An infant in the Jeep, 3-month-old Ethan Evans Ruefly, was first taken to MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center for treatment. From there, due to the severity of his injuries he was flown by medevac to Childrens National Medical Center, where his parents made the decision to take him off life support three days later. Ethan died on May 10.
Troopers made contact with Ford, and while talking with him allegedly noticed the odor of alcohol on his breath. Ford allegedly failed field sobriety tests and was placed under arrest at the scene. Last June, he was charged with grossly negligent vehicular manslaughter, two counts of negligent homicide by vehicle while under the influence, failure to remain at the scene of an accident and other related offenses. Ford was arrested June 7 and has been in custody since.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant State’s Attorney Tiffany Campbell and Deputy State’s Attorney Karen Piper Mitchell. In the opening arguments Monday, Campbell first showed the jury a picture of Ethan as he was in life. For the baby’s family, Campbell said, that day was just like any other “until two worlds tragically and criminally collided.”
Ford, who worked delivering office supplies, was working and en route that day to a delivery at the College of Southern Maryland when the crash occurred. Through the trial, Campbell said, the court will hear from witnesses who saw Ford allegedly lose control of his vehicle and otherwise driving erratically in the minutes leading up to the crash. When the accident happened, Campbell said, Ford made no effort to brake, and instead “plowed into the back” of the Jeep driven by Ethan’s mother, Victoria Willett.
Willett and the father, Jonathan Ruefly, were “frantic” as they tried to extricate Ethan from the backseat of the car, Campbell said. Ford offered them no assistance, she said, and when the man did get out of his truck, a beer can allegedly spilled out behind him. He was confronted twice by Ruefly, including once as he allegedly tried to flee the scene on foot, Campbell said. A blood alcohol test given to Ford returned a .24 BAC, Campbell said, three times the legal limit.
Ford is being represented in this case by public defenders Cynthia Frezzo and Derrick Johnson. Frezzo delivered the defense’s opening, and said that while it is “very clear” Ford was both drunk and at fault for the accident, his driving is not what caused Ethan’s death. That, she said, can be attributed to issues surrounding his treatment at the scene, the vehicle itself and flaws in the state police’s investigation.
Frezzo told the jury they’d learn there were issues with the way Ethan was intubated at the scene with a breathing tube, namely that the tube was improperly placed in the baby’s esophagus rather than his windpipe. That, Frezzo said, lead to Ethan being deprived of oxygen for as long as 60 minutes. She also said questions would arise about the infant’s car seat, along with features of the car itself that may have worsened his injuries. The state police, she said, failed to answer basic questions in the investigation and may have missed crucial details.
“They want you to look at him and see a killer, not a person,” Frezzo said of Ford’s portrayal by the prosecution, urging the jury to “not let tragedy pressure you to a verdict.”
Before court concluded Monday, the jury heard testimony from witnesses including a woman Ford nearly side-swiped in traffic moments before the accident and Willett herself. The trial was ongoing at press time and expected to continue through the week.